What Has Mike Pence Done in Health?

What Has Mike Pence Done in Health?

WASHINGTON — When President Trump announced Wednesday that Vice President Pence would take charge of the nation’s coronavirus response, he repeatedly touted the “great health care” in Indiana during Mr. Pence’s time as governor there, adding, “He’s got a certain talent for this.”

So what does Mr. Pence’s record on health care look like? He has no training or expertise in health policy. Paradoxically, the two health initiatives that he got the most attention for in Indiana are actions that many in the Republican Party have strongly opposed.

In 2015, he was one of the first Republican governors who agreed to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, a move that others in his party have shunned because of their opposition to the law.

That same year, he allowed — albeit reluctantly — a program to provide clean needles for intravenous drug users in a rural county that was in the throes of an HIV outbreak.

For weeks, Mr. Pence delayed permitting public health workers to distribute the clean needles to slow the epidemic, stating moral opposition to drug use. He relented as the number of HIV cases approached 100 (they ultimately surpassed 200) and doctors from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pleaded with him — and after taking a few more nights to “pray on it,” according to Dr. Jerome Adams, the state health commissioner at the time and now the United States surgeon general.

Today, his decision to allow a needle exchange — initially only for 30 days — is believed to have played an important role in slowing the epidemic.

But while his decision allowed such exchanges to open statewide, no state funding was made available for them. More broadly, critics said that Mr. Pence, like previous Indiana governors, had failed to invest adequately in public health.

“All his public health policies in Indiana were more about his beliefs or ideology, and not evidence based or around data,” said Carrie Ann Lawrence, associate director of the Rural Center for AIDS/STD Prevention at Indiana University.

As a member of Congress from 2001 to 2013, his deep opposition to abortion led him to initiate efforts to strip federal funding from Planned Parenthood. A Planned Parenthood clinic had been the only place for HIV testing in Scott County, where the outbreak took place. It closed in 2013, largely due to cuts in state public health funding.

The Coronavirus Outbreak

  • Answers to your most common questions:

    Updated Feb. 26, 2020

    • What is a coronavirus?
      It is a novel virus named for the crownlike spikes that protrude from its surface. The coronavirus can infect both animals and people and can cause a range of respiratory illnesses from the common cold to more dangerous conditions like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, or SARS.
    • How do I keep myself and others safe?
      Washing your hands frequently is the most important thing you can do, along with staying at home when you’re sick.
    • What if I’m traveling?
      The C.D.C. has warned older and at-risk travelers to avoid Japan, Italy and Iran. The agency also has advised against all nonessential travel to South Korea and China.
    • Where has the virus spread?
      The virus, which originated in Wuhan, China, has sickened more than 80,000 people in at least 33 countries, including Italy, Iran and South Korea.
    • How contagious is the virus?
      According to preliminary research, it seems moderately infectious, similar to SARS, and is probably transmitted through sneezes, coughs and contaminated surfaces. Scientists have estimated that each infected person could spread it to somewhere between 1.5 and 3.5 people without effective containment measures.
    • Who is working to contain the virus?
      World Health Organization officials have been working with officials in China, where growth has slowed. But this week, as confirmed cases spiked on two continents, experts warned that the world was not ready for a major outbreak.